Signposting African integration through standardisation

THIRTY seven years ago, precisely between January10 and 17, 1977, the city of Accra Ghana played host to other African governments under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Organisation for Africa Unity (OAU).  

As at that period, most African countries were just granted independence by their colonial masters and so the euphoria of the unfolding events and the prevailing mood of the African socio-political and economic Pan-Africanism brought about the week- long conference which was meant to birth a continental standardisation body that would meet the desire of the continent.  The meeting heralded the birth of the African Regional Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO) now referred to as the African Organisation for Standardisation with the former acronyms intact.

The ideals of the organization, among others, are to form a route to link African’s fresh economy with the rest of the world as well as deliver the African common market for economic prosperity of the continent.  The body which comprises the presidents and heads of standards agencies across the continent also has specific objectives to share in the benefits of standardisation within its member states, strengthen its national bureaux, review its membership and strategies for engaging members and non-members alike for membership drive and mobilisation and of course collaborate with key partners in quality infrastructure operating on the African continent. 

All over the world, the issue of standards is one taken with so much seriousness because standards or lack of it has a great impact on the health of consumers.  There have been cases of people who were exposed to substandard goods and products and they never lived to tell the story.  And if there must be trans-border trade within the continent and to the rest of the world, common standards must be maintained in order for goods in country A to be acceptable in country B.
It is estimated that the volume of trade across the African continent is a paltry 5 per cent. This has been attributed partly to the prevailing poverty in the region.  Reasons which range from lack of common standard, multiple tariffs, multiple checks at the borders and a host of others have also been adjudged to be hindrances to the flow of trade across the continent.  More importantly, for goods produced in African countries to be acceptable in other parts of the globe, heads of standards bodies across Africa must insist on standards and regulate same.

It is in view of this that all chief executive officers of national standards agencies converged on Abuja for a three days seminar to brainstorm on how to improve on the volume of trade in Africa to at least 35 percent; remove inhibitions to trade across the continent; appraise and advice governments across the continent on its programmes and strategies for growing business in Africa, among others.

The continent has also witnessed a massive rejection of its products by the global market due to non compliance to the agreeable level of standards and this had continued to inhibit flow of trade and allowed for loss of resources by producers who most times export their products in their raw state cheaply to Europe and America only to buy such products back in their finished state more expensive.

Director General of Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) Dr Joseph Odumodu, who is currently the president of ARSO, said lack of uniform standards within the continent has continued to deprive it of attainment of high yield in resources from its products.  Odumodu averred that so much waste has been recorded due to this challenge where rejected products had to be abandoned abroad instead of the exporter incurring another huge financial loss at bringing them back to Africa.
He said raising the bar and status of standardisation and other quality infrastructure components in Africa in reference to regional and international trade, requires that all member states conform to an agreeable standards mode. He also reiterated the need for member states to put mechanisms in place that would govern the activities of stakeholders and ensure that no party has an undue advantage over the other. 

He said with the increasing drift towards globalisation, the economic trends and patterns are also experiencing dynamic shifts.  This, he said, has not exempted Africa due to the Intra-African and Inter-African trade which had evolved greatly over time.  Odumodu said trade has significant impact on the political, economic and socio-cultural development of African countries through the generation of revenues, creation of larger markets, reduction of production costs, improved productivity and reduction of poverty among the people. 

He called on all African countries to be members of the institution due to the need for increased collaboration currently sweeping across the continent adding that the collaborative actions and regional approaches have become very critical to achieving the developmental goals of member states.

Odumodu averred that organised standardisation has now become an important element of infrastructure needed for the healthy growth of industry and commerce in all countries of the world adding that insistence on standardisation is aimed at achieving the reaping of maximum overall economies of scale.  

He said the agreement on a standard way of doing business will also promotes integrated or harmonized treatment of trans-boundary issues such as trade regulatory frameworks and policies while at the same time concentrate on regional infrastructure and other cross border issues.

He said with its current members states put at 35 and through the active participation of these member states in standardisation activities, many countries are now eliminating technical barriers to trade and creating equal opportunities for all businesses and trading partners in Africa.

‘’The current state of globalized world trade requires the standardisation of products and services in line with the requirements of the WTO and its attendant regulations on technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, hence the importance placed on the role of ARSO.   The challenge of the African counties therefore is to consolidate active commitments toward new priorities, strategies and targets for achieving the standardisation agenda to promote the philosophy of One Standard, One Test, One Measurement accepted everywhere’’.

The Secretary General, Dr Hermogene Nsengimana, in his remark said an important part of the commitment of ARSO is to streamline the SMEs in national economies and global trade through standardisation targets to create awareness among SMEs on the benefits of standardisation and promote their participation in standards setting processes and implementation. He noted that the relative importance of SMEs and the informal sector are inversely associated with economic development.
He said the bottleneck associated with movement of trade across African countries which had made trading with Europe and America cheaper than trading with other neighbouring African countries should be eliminated.

In order to achieve food security in Africa, a discussion session focused on the role of standardisation in promoting sustainable agriculture and food security where discussants from Ghana, Kenya, and Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) maintained that no meaningful achievement can be recorded in this area if governments in the continent fails to put deliberate policies, strategies and regulatory framework in place for a sustainable agriculture which will translate to food security.  They posited that food may be going into extinction in Africa if nothing is done to check post harvest waste due to lack of storage facilities especially for fruits and vegetables. 

Concerns were also raised on the way local producers of food processes and dry their food in open spaces prone to germs and bacteria which brought to the fore the issue of environmental health.   If not checked, they said,Africa may not be free from preventable diseases that are traceable to food poison.  They said the way grains are dried along the road side portends danger to consumers and processors need to be educated on the importance of food standards and safety and improve on the way they process their food.

The FAO representative in Nigeria, Dr Louise Setshwaelo, said all heads of governments in the continent should look beyond the 2014 declaration by the African Union as the year of Agriculture and continue to put in place policies and programmes that would ensure that the continent lack no food at any point in time.  She said with the population of Africa which had doubled over time, it is imperative for Africa leaders to improve on food production to match the offshoot in the population.

She said if food security can be achieved in the continent, employment generation will fall in line as excess food produced can be exported to other countries, a feat she said would improve the standard of living of the people, create wealth for them and advance the economic prosperity of the continent.

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